Front offices long to find sleepers in the NBA Draft.
Teams often overlook them because said players lack ideal size, don’t play meaningful games against the right competition and/or have a limited offensive repertoire.
Smart scouts and general managers look past ideals and notice key traits such as how athleticism, basketball IQ, tools and marked improvement all combine to project at the next level. Recent sleepers such as plus-defenders Pascal Siakam (27th in 2016) and Draymond Green (35th in 2012) drastically changed their franchises’ fortunes by improving their offensive games to become stars.
DePaul University power forward Paul Reed’s superior traits and yearly improvement place him as one of the draft’s most underrated prospects. He will make teams that turn him down quickly regret that decision.
STEADY COLLEGE IMPROVEMENT
Reed played high school ball in Orlando, Florida, where he started as a 6’2” freshman guard before growing six inches by his senior year. He led his team to the state championship game, averaging 18.2 ppg and 11.4 rpg along the way. DePaul University inked the three-star recruit who was just the No. 235 prospect in his class.
Reed averaged 3.6 ppg and 3.1 rpg off the bench as a true freshman, but then made a significant jump the following year, upping his production to 12.3 ppg and 8.5 rpg on the way to being named Big East Conference Most Improved Player.
The 6’9”, 220-pound Reed then took another step for the 2019-20 campaign.
Leading his team, he stuffed the box with 15.1 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.6 bpg and 1.9 spg. This helped DePaul bolt to a 12-1 start, with key road wins over Iowa and Minnesota, plus a home upset over last year’s national runner-up Texas Tech.
Perhaps Reed’s most impressive junior showing was his all-around 15 points, 18 rebounds, five blocks and four steals game Dec. 8 against Buffalo.
DePaul struggled in Big East play, partly because Reed missed time with a hip flexor injury, as well as facing an overall low talent in the third hardest conference (per strength of schedule).
Reed still managed to earn Big East Second Team honors by placing first in defensive rating (88.8), second in rebounds (310) and blocks (74), and third in field goal percentage (51.6 percent), steals (54) and player efficiency rating (27.5 PER).
The Athletic and Stadium’s Shams Charania reported Reed forgoing his final year of eligibility March 28, when will be DePaul’s biggest draft prospect since Wilson Chandler in 2007.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 28, 2020
Paul Reed goes to work every day, and TBW’s Adam Spinella provides a video breakdown on the young prospect’s strengths:
Reed presents a disruptive defensive presence, raking up 3.8 defensive win shares his last two seasons. He is a strong weak-side shot-blocker with strong rotation instincts, having swatted 9.7 percent of opponents’ shots last year.
He deftly leverages his 6’9” body (some list him an inch taller) and 7’1” wingspan to get his hands up, altering post moves, drives and perimeter shots. His lateral quickness and sound footwork allow him to rotate in team defensive switching concepts, something he will be called to do when guarding NBA wings and bigs on the perimeter.
His length, quickness and footwork will keep him in front of ball-handlers as an effective on-ball defender. Reed closes out well, and he can flash and recover when needed—a good trait when guarding highly skillful wings who focus more on motion offense.
Offensively, Reed shows signs of being a solid spot-up shooter, scoring in the mid-range and from 3-point land. His three-point percentage dipped from 40.5 percent his sophomore year to 30.8, but he also took nearly twice as many threes as a junior.
That, and his encouraging 75.6 percent free-throw shooting the last two years (he hit 58.0 percent as a freshman), point to better days ahead.
Reed possesses a good touch and ability to attack the rim against poor closeouts, and his high school guard experience allows him to glide in transition when he pushes the ball upcourt.
Teams should salivate at Reed’s production from the dunker spot, where he sported a 63.6 percent finishing rate.
Reed finishes strong on his cuts, put backs and fake dribble handoffs, so this might be a good way to integrate himself in the offense while he fine-tunes his mid- and long-range shooting. He can also use the rim to shield his shots from weak-side defenders for creative layups or jams.
REED’S AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
Reed comes with experience and solid potential, but he still needs to shore up some areas:
While Reed rates as a top defender, that same ability makes him rely on his talent too much at times. He can chase blocked shots by leaving his feet too early.
He can’t do that in the NBA, or crafty guards and wings will jet past him for easy layups and assists.
Reed also needs to work on drop pick and roll coverage, improving his angles to hedge ball handlers and off-ball rollers from gaining too much advantageous positioning. Coaches and veterans should advise him to not give up ground, instead using his long wingspan to his advantage.
This might help prevent him from getting into foul trouble. (He fouled out four times in 2019-20.) Sound defensive fundamentals in not reaching, but rather using his arms to obstruct the ball handler’s field of vision, should lessen this concern.
Shooting will help Reed develop into a solid NBA player, but he needs to rework his release a bit. He has a hitchy, stiff and rigid motion that can be sped up.
A smoother, faster shot can be more repeatable and prevent defenders from consistently blocking or altering his looks.
Trainers and coaches should work on having Reed relax and loosen his form. His stiffness prevents high level pull up jumpers from going in. He also struggled when shooting off pick-and-pops ( 26 percent). That’s a little surprising because he can face up and use advanced post moves so well.
Either way, pick-and-pop shooting a necessary skill for any big in today’s NBA.
While Reed runs the floor well in transition, he sometimes loosely handles the ball and commits unforced errors. He needs to work on passing in traffic off short rolls or in the post, and he can further polish his jab step for drives.
DRAFT POSITIONING VARIES
Various sites predict Reed’s draft position anywhere from No. 12 overall to somewhere in the second round.
Two scouting services are high on Reed, however. Tankathon.com rates him 16th and the fifth power forward (just behind Maryland’s Jalen Smith). The Athletic’s John Hollinger places Reed 12th in his Top 20 sleepers, writing how Reed’s a long-limbed 4 who could guard all five positions at a high level while scoring in various energetic ways:
“Statistically, Reed had the highest steal rate of any player in my top 60, guards included, and had the highest block rate of any non-center… For me, Reed projects as a high-value role player, a guy who could be a team’s best defender and productively play a secondary role on offense.
I’m really interested to see where he lands in the draft, because most projections have him buried in the late second round. If that really happens, he’s an absolute steal.”
Wherever Reed lands, his lucky new team will welcome a determined plus-defender who has a good chance of polishing his offensive game to develop into an effective starter.
Bob Bajek is an award-winning investigative journalist and TBW staff writer who has extensive experience in news and sportswriting for various outlets including Bleacher Report, The Chicago Tribune and Pro Football Weekly. He firmly believes Drake spread the Gospel of Steph before his official coming… and fans need to forgive the Warriors after providing free tacos for four NBA Finals.